Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Come on over to alanpaul.net

New posts about Ivan Reitman, Mark Karan, Chinese hoops, Rebecca Blumenstein, the Wall Street Journal....all at www.alanpaul.net.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Blogging away... come on over....

I have moved my base of operations over to www.alanpaul.net...

Recent blog posts about Stevie Ray Vaughan's last gig, Peter Hessler, my wife Rebecca Blumenstein's new job at the WSJ, Paul Westerberg and much more. Please drop by.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Still posting, but not here...

Recent posts on Rick Perry, John Belushi, Animal House, the Doors, Dawes, hiking in Colorado, Electric Pass and much more... at www.alanpaul.net/blog.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Thank you to everyone clicking in from the Star Tribune

I am happy to have you here, and I deeply appreciated Tom Zelman's kind, thoughtful review today. I am now blogging daily on my website, www.alanpaul.net. Please click on over and let me know if you have any questions.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Thanks for checking in - please click over to alanpaul.net

A big reminder that I am doing all my active blogging over at www.alanpaul.net. Please join me there to stay up to date on Big in China and all my other activities.

Monday, July 11, 2011

New, old Buddy Guy interview up

I just posted a 2001 Buddy Guy interview from my archives at my new site: www.alanpaul.net. Please click on over and have a look.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Happy Holiday weekend and thanks for checking in

Happy 4th of July extended weekend to one and all.

I am off this week, hiking, biking and rock climbing in Idaho's fabulous Sawtooth Mountains. When I return I will be back in action, blogging at my new site: www.alanpaul.net. Please check in there.




Friday, June 17, 2011

In China on book tour and blogging away....

On www.alanpaul.net. Please join me there.

My latest:



Note the comments below, including some haters. I think that’s the same guy who posted something similar on the Hollywood Reporter story.
It was great to play with Zhang Yong and Lu Wei. Tonight at the Orchard was even better… and tomorrow at Jianghu will be best. More coming.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Special BookPerks offer this week: Buy Big in China, get a free Beijing Blues CD.

BookPerks is running a special offer, this week only. Buy Big in China and receive a Beijing Blues CD for free. Same one praised by musical giants like Billy Gibbons and Warren Haynes. Check it out: http://ow.ly/5b4WQ


“Best Chinese blues band I ever heard. Who knew?”
-Billy F. Gibbons, ZZ Top
“You can hear the emotional commitment in every note of Woodie Wu’s playing. It is the sound of someone determined to find his own voice and destined to do so.”
-Warren Haynes, the Allman Brothers Band
“A great mix of Western and Eastern blues that proves blues is a universal language. This cool CD has lots of soul and there is definitely music for more than just a blues fan here. “
-Joe Bonamassa
“A very pleasantly smoking CD…good tunes and good musicians clearly enjoying making great music together.”
-Blues legend Charlie Musselwhite
“A can’t-miss Beijing phenomenon. It’s always Tsingtao time when these guys take the stage.”
-Beijing City Weekend


“Very cool.”
-Derek Trucks 
Allman Brothers Band
“Simply amazing.”
-Col. Bruce Hampton
“The very essence of world music: stone cold  American blues with subtle, interesting  Chinese overtones and killer slide guitar.”
-Brad Tolinski, Guitar World
“Woodie Alan has really pushed forward the  development and growth of blues in China by playing hundreds of well-received shows. Woodie Wu is a new kind of guitar hero here — subtle and killer.”
-Guitar China

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Please join me at alanpaul.net

After six years of blogging goodness here, it is with a somewhat heavy but very excited heart that I move my base of operations over to www.alanpaul.net. Please click on over. Thanks.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Live Wire, Blues Power: the mighty Albert King


As I've written before, interviewing the mighty blues guitarist Albert King during my first months as Guitar World's Managing Editor way back in 1991 was a tremendous thrill.  Twenty years later it remains a definitive career highlight. Please go back and read that interview and my intro to it to understand just how much Albert meant to me.

I have also written before about the new, rather amazing stash of videos being posted on Wolfgang's Vault. Well, this one just took my breath away. It's Albert King live at the Fillmore West in 1970, playing "Blues Power." It captures everything that drew me to Albert and still makes him such a towering figure to me. I would have been awed to see a performance of this song at this time at this venue filmed on a shaky handheld, but this is a professionally recorded, multi-camera shoot.

Albert is so in command of his music, his voice, instrument, his band. He is completely in the moment. His playing is pithy, deep, and soulful. His tone is manly; he is pushing the gain quite a bit for a 1970 blues player and riding the edge of feedback. And his singing is just as good, as is his stage presence and pattern. I just love it all.

The album that got me hooked on Albert KIng was Live Wire/Blues Power, which was recorded in 1968 at the same Fillmore. It includes a similar, though extended take on "Blues Power." I put this album onto a cassette tape and I made a couple of cross-country drives with this being one of just a handful of tapes that I listened to over and over. This particular song always just resonated in some unspeakable way to me. It made me crank the volume and lose myself in every note. It made me want to know more. It made me happy to be alive. it made me want go out and kick ass in whatever I did. All of which is to say it stirred my soul. 

I’m not the same yearning kid I was when I first listened to it. I’m a 44-year-old father of three prepping for his kid’s bar mitzvah, a published author and a decent musician myself. Whatever.

All these years later, actually seeing the man play the song in the same place, with the same arrangement  in the same time frame evokes all the same feelings inside me.  


-Gregg Allman on Big in China: "What a romp. After writing about music for years, Alan Paul walked the walk, preaching the blues in China. Anyone who doubts that music is bigger than words needs to read this great tale.”

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Ladies and gentleman, Woodie Alan

I always liked this guy's photos and I just came across this one, which I had not seen in a while on Woodie's My space page.  It is a bad copy and the image is too small, but it captures something and I like it. 

Alan Paul and Woodie Wu of Woodie Alan at Jianghu Jiuba, Beijing.

Welcome Back to Pittsburgh Jim Leyland

With Jim Leyland and his Tigers pulling into PNC tonight, it seemed like a good time revisit one of the skip's finest moments as amanager: taking on Barry Bonds. Thanks for the memories and the years of service.

Friday, May 20, 2011

"It's oil...black, black gold"

The fine folks from Taiwan's NMA animation strike again, this time with this fine summary of rising gas prices. The lead character is a pretty insulting caricature of an American, but this sums things up in a fun and amusing few minutes better than anything else you are likely to come across. I believe that Paul Krugman makes a cameo at the end, too,

If you are not hip to these guys' great animations of current news, you should be.




As an added bonus, here is their take on Mayor Bloomberg's war on unhealthy living, from salt to smokes:

Beijing, Chengdu, Shanghai Here I Come

Photo by Kathryn Huang


I'm very happy to say that I will be in China to promote Big in China very soon. Scroll down the page to read some excerpts from the book.

More dates are being added, but I am already looking like a busy boy. 
Confirmed dates:

June 14, 7:30 PM    Chengdu Bookworm     Reading and Signing
Always happy to have an excuse to go eat Sichuan food in Sichuan.

June 15, 7:30 PM     Beijing Bookworm      
Reading, Signing and Acoustic Performance
Looking forward to appearing at this Beijing landmark, where I have spent many hours buying books, working, eating, drinking, chatting - and listening to others read.  And very pleased that I will be joined by Woodie Alan bandmates Lu Wei and Zhang Yong for a brief acoustic performance.

June 17,  9:00 PM    Jianghu Jiuba                  
Woodie Alan Reunion, Book Release party
A Woodie Alan partial reunion gig at Jianghu Jiuba, my favorite little Beijing hutong bar - often discussed in Big in China. I will be performing with my brothers Lu Wei and Zhang Yong, plus some special guests. CD and Book giveaways all night long.

June 18, 6:00 PM  Garden Books, Shanghai      Reading and Signing
Looking forward to filling up this great little spot in Shanghai's French Concession.

June 19, 4:00 PM   M on the Bund, Shanghai    Reading and Signing
A BIC reading and signing at the home of the Shanghai Literary Festival.

"Alan Paul plunges into Chinese life and takes us along for the ride, through vegetable markets, used-car lots, Taoist temples, divey bars, and a beachside music festival before thousands of cheering fans. He conveys the thrills and challenges of living abroad, the confusions and regrets, and most of all the opportunity to become the person we always hoped to be. “
-Peter Hessler, author, River Town; Country Driving

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Portland Oregonian Review of Big in China

The Oregonian ran a really nice, thoughtful, in-depth review of Big in China last week. Here it is re-reun on the website of the writer, John Strawn.

RIP Tractor Traylor: A personal rememberance




Wow. Tractor Traylor dead at 34.

This is just very very sad. Tractor was starring for U-M when I was living in Ann Arbor in 96-98. I saw him play a lot and did a piece in Slam - one of the first things I wrote for the magazine.  He made tremendous strides during his career there, and started passing out of the box his final year; he had sort of been a blackhole before then.  When he lost a bunch of weight prior to the draft, I took him seriously and, combined with the improvement I had seen, thought he was going to thrive in the NBA, despite the fact that he was simultaneously too small (6-8) and too big (300 pounds or so) at once.  I remember laughing at the Mavs when they traded his draft rights for Dirk Nowitzki, some German teen I had never heard of. Oops.

Tractor's legacy at Michigan is cloudy. He was part of a team that let everyone down in a million ways, and he was one of four players, along with Louis Bullock., Chris Webber and Maurice Taylor who seem to have taken money fro Ed Martin. I saw all of them, including Martin, at St. Cecilia's in Detroit when I spent time there writing a story for Slam - one of my favorite things I've ever done, by the way.

Aside from the money, the team was a really a letdown on the court. They never achieved what seemed possible and we'll never know why.

But Tractor was a garrulous, friendly guy and a cool presence - and what a perfect nickname, to tie this in with the previous post.  During the weeks before the 98 Draft, he was working out for teams and Becky and I were in the old Detroit airport flying back to New York. At the last minute, they announced a flight cancellation and a gate change for us and we knew that it was a blood-in-the-water, first-come, first-served situation. So I took off running. I turned the corner into the  right corridor at full sprint, Becky trailing me, pushing infant Jacob in a stroller. I was flying, with  bags flapping behind me, when I almost ran smack into Tractor. He had lost a ton of weight but was still massive, like a brick wall. I stopped, said hi, reintroduced myself, shook hands and said, "I gotta go."

He laughed.  As I ran away, I looked over my shoulder and said, "Tractor, you look great! Keep working hard."

And he smiled this huge smile and said, "Thanks, man. I will."

Soon after, I was at Toys R Us and saw a U-M Tractor bobblehead, which I bought and placed on Jacob's dresser, next to Josh Gibson. Both are still there 13 years later.

RIP Tractor. Gone far too soon.




Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Some Soulshine for the 800th rainy day in a row

The sun may never shine again in the Northeast, so you might as well focus on letting your soul shine. Bluesman Larry McCray, an old friend of Warren Haynes', was the first one to record this. This goes out to my brother Woodie Wu and to the memory of Tim "Tragocaster" Lamb, my guitar mentor who was like a brother with Larry. I wish I could jam with either of those guys right now.





Warren Haynes on Big in China: “It’s hard to imagine a better American musical ambassador than Alan Paul. After spent crafting words, he found himself in a situation where words didn’t work anymore and was able to transcend them and make a deeper emotional connection with music. With the help of great local musicians, he bridged cultures with notes. It's an amazing story.”

Some new pictures by Kathryn Huang

I did a photo shoot with Kathryn Huang today because I needed some very specifically framed photos for a Beijing magazine. Here are a couple examples of what we did.


I suggested this as sort of a joke after seeing versions of it in so many Guitar World stories.

This. or something very similar, will be in Beijing City Weekend in a few weeks.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Big in China Excerpt: The Ecstasy of the evangelist. Preaching the blues in Changsha

The following excerpt, from Chapter 30, Bittersweet Surrender, captures Woodie Alan when we were riding a crest and performing the first of three gigs at Changsha, Hunan's Coco Clubs. It captures the essence of what Gregg Allman was thinking when he said this about the book:


What a romp. After writing about music for years, Alan Paul walked the walk, preaching the blues in China. Anyone who doubts that music is bigger than words needs to read this great tale.”
-Gregg Allman, the Allman Brothers Band

—This post is adapted from Chapter 8 of Big In China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising A Family, Playing The Blues and Becoming A Star in China (Harper). Click here to buy. Copyright 2011 by Alan Paul.

Woodie Alan at a Changsha radio station, with DJs.
Our first gig was at Coco’s “private club for successful people,” a members-only establishment that looked like the bastard child of a Seventies fondue restaurant and a high-end brothel, with burnished wood and red banquettes everywhere. It also featured an impressively stocked cigar humidor and an extensive private bottle collection where members kept their own wine, cognac and scotch.

The packed crowd cheered loudly before and after every song, a remarkably enthusiastic reception for American roots music in Chairman Mao’s home province. Though it was a Wednesday night, people were partying hard.
When we kicked into our next-to-last song, “Hey Hey Guniang,” the hard-charging Chinese jump blues sung by Zhang Yong, three beefy tough guys and their beautiful molls started dancing right in front of the stage. I had noted them all night as they alternated between drinking cognac in their banquette booth and leaping up to cheer. One of the men stumbled towards me, with something in his hand. I couldn’t make out what it was until he stuck a giant Cuban cigar in my mouth and raised his lighter with an unsteady hand.
I continued to pound away on my guitar, the giant stogie protruding out of my crooked grin. My hand was aching and bleeding under the bandages from a cut I received from a broken beer bottle in Xiamen, but I didn’t even notice. As we segued into the American jump blues “Kansas City,” I held the cigar in my left hand and spread my arms wide as I belted out, “I’m going to Kansas City, Kansas City here I come.” Watching all these Chinese people grow almost delirious, dancing with abandon, I growled out the lyrics: “They got some crazy little women there and I’m gonna get me one.”
When we ended the night with “Soulshine,” the crowd clapped along, swaying to the music and waving lighters in the air. I thought of Warren Haynes, the Allman Brothers Band guitarist who wrote the song, and remembered all the time I had spent listening to his music, watching him play and interviewing him on his tour bus and in his New York apartment. I imagined how happy he would be to have his music spread so far from home and for the first time I understood the ecstasy of the evangelist. I felt like a preacher spreading the gospel into the farthest reaches of China.
When we finished playing, the tough who had given me the cigar pulled me down into his banquette and poured me a glass of Courvoisier. He and his buddies patted me on the back, as two long-legged beauties slid in on either side of me. When one of the thick-necked men raised his snifter in salute, I realized that the girls were just like the cigar and the cognac to them— rewards offered for a job well done.
Before I could sneak away, I felt a hand on each of my thighs. One of the women pulled me close and whispered into my ear, in slurred, drunken English.
“What is the name of your bass player?”
“Zhang Yong.”
“If you bring me to Zhang Yong, you can touch me anywhere.”
She squeezed my thigh hard. Then the other one pulled me to her and put her lips inside my ear. “Don’t bring her to your bass player.” She was equally drunk. “Bring me.”
The first one yanked me back. “Touch me anywhere!”
I laughed at the fact that the first time I had groupies they were just trying to get to Zhang Yong, but I wasn’t surprised. The quiet, self-possessed bassist had several beautiful girlfriends in Beijing, sometimes showing up at an afternoon gig with one and an evening performance with another. When I asked him once, in Chinese, how many girlfriends he had, he laughed and responded, in English, “Many, many girlfriends.”
I just wanted to get away from both of these women. The path of least resistance was to lead the more persistent one to Zhang Yong, who could certainly handle her easier than I could. “Just come with me,” I said
She slid out of the booth and rose onto unsteady feet. When I got up she put her arm around my waist and leaned into my side. We walked into the back room where the band was sitting at a discrete corner table. Surprise washed over everyone’s faces at the sight of this beautiful Chinese woman draped over me. “Don’t worry,” I said in Chinese. “She wants Zhang Yong.”
He got up and laughed when I told him to be careful. They walked off together and five minutes later he returned alone and said that he had walked outside and put her in a cab.
My patron - the guy who provided the cigar and cognac



This is the performance referenced above. It is not our finest effort - incredibly sloppy and Tianxiao blowing the sax instead of the smoother, more elegant Dave Loevinger. But boy does it capture the scene:

Drummer Lu Wei was on fire throughout our three days performing in his home province of Hunan:

Monday, May 16, 2011

Dashboard Confessional's Chris Carrabba loves Big in China

Dashboard Confessional's Chris Carrabba on Big In China: "This book is great. I recommend it to any guitarist, traveler, or basketball fan!"

He sent this out as a tweet and also referred to me as "my friend..." That's all really nice. We have had some really nice email exchanges and phone conversations but have not actually met yet.

Here's how I met Chris: Someone wrote Slam Editor in Chief Ben Osborne a while back and told him that Chris, the founder/leader/songwriter/singer/guitarist of the pioneering emo band Dashboard Confessional was a basketball junkie who had frequently referenced Slam in blog and Twitter posts. Ben forwarded to me, the mag's resident crossover guy between the world of hoops and loud guitars, and asked me to check it out.

I ended up interviewing Chris for a dime Drop feature. It's the kind of interview that could be done in 10-15 minutes, but we spoke for an hour or more - about hoops, guitars, playing music while watching hoops, feeling inspired by sports while playing music, being inspired by music while playing sports... and how it all relates. It was a fun and easy conversation.

Afterwards, we exchanged some emails and Chris wrote me, "I really enjoyed that chat - so few people share my passion for both basketball and music guitars!" I was in complete agreement. I was supposed to go see him in New York shortly thereafter but unfortunately the gig coincided with the eve of my deadline for final, final readbacks on my book. I could not go. I did send him a galley of the book - and I was very excited when he wrote me the other day, apologized for having taken so long and told me that he loved Big in China. then he tweeted about it.

Thanks Chris, and I look forward to seeing you in NYC next time. Let's catch a game next season.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Bob Dylan was not censored in China - and so what if he was

Bob Dylan has spoken out, making a rare public statement, er blog post, on his website, about his allegedly having been censored in China.

I don't blame him for being pissed and stepping up here. The whole incident was widely and wildly misconstrued and badly reported. Most teeth grindingly stupid was this ill-informed, no-nothing column by Maureen Dowd, who never found a cultural trend she wasn't ready to jump on, regardless of her level of knowledge.

This is my favorite part of Bob's statement: “As far as censorship goes, the Chinese government had asked for the names of the songs that I would be playing. There’s no logical answer to that, so we sent them the set lists from the previous three months. If there were any songs, verses or lines censored, nobody ever told me about it and we played all the songs that we intended to play.” 

The emphasis is mine, because I think it's hilarious and gets right at something; Bob plays different sets every night, which anyone who follows him at all knows. Thus, it was ridiculous from the start to read so much into what he DIDN'T play on any given night.

Look, I wasn't there, though I would have have loved to have been. I did have a whole lot of friends there, many sending me email and tweet updates. We all laughed at the idea of a Chinese censor trying to write down Bob's lyrics. Fans who have pored over his music like the Talmud often can't recognize a song in their constantly evolving version, or understand what he is singing these days in his croaky, totally reimagined versions. How the hell would a Chinese censor have any idea?

I will take Bob at his word that he didn't alter the setlist, but the bigger picture is, so what if he did? That would not be selling out, no matter what Maureen Dowd says. It would be making a reasonable compromise to play by the rules of a different place and there is more value to him being there than not. Good old Bjork really didn't do anyone any favors - except maybe her own career - when she yelled "Tibet" at the end of a Shanghai performance of her song "Declare Independence" in 2008. The only result was less Western rockers have been to China since. And who exactly benefits from that.

Give 'em hell, Bob!

Bob in Beijing

"Alan Paul, A Southern Rock Champion"

There are times when I wish the 12-year-old could see me, and reading a headline calling me a "Southern Rock Champion" is one of them. It makes me think of being in my basement staring at the Skynyrd poster on the wood paneled wall, or laying on my brother's yellow shag carpet, listening to Eat a peach and poring over the psychedelic gatefold artwork.

I am proud to have this shout out on swampland.com, a great Southern Rock-oriented site. And yes I'm proud to be a Southern Rock Champion. Full review coming there soon.


With Lynyrd Skynyrd's Gary Rossington, backstage at the Beacon Theater

Thursday, May 12, 2011

RIP Tractor Traylor

Wow. Tractor Traylor dead at 34.

This is just very very sad. Tractor was starring for U-M when I was living in Ann Arbor in 96-98. I saw him play a lot and did a piece in Slam - one of the first things I wrote for the magazine.  He made tremendous strides during his career there, and started passing out of the box his final year; he had sort of been a blackhole before then.  When he lost a bunch of weight prior to the draft, I took him seriously and, combined with the improvement I had seen, thought he was going to thrive in the NBA, despite the fact that he was simultaneously too small (6-8) and too big (300 pounds or so) at once.  I remember laughing at the Mavs when they traded his draft rights for some German teen I had never heard of. Oops.

Tractor's legacy at Michigan is cloudy. He was part of a team that let everyone down in a million ways, and he was one of four players, along with Louis Bullock., Chris Webber and Maurice Taylor who seem to have taken money fro Ed Martin. I saw all of them, including Martin, at St. Cecilia's in Detroit when I spent time there writing a story for slam - one of my favorite things I've ever done, by the way.

Aside from the money, the team was a really a letdown on the court. They never achieved what seemed possible and we'll never know why.

But Tractor was a garrulous, friendly guy and a cool presence - and what a perfect nickname, to tie this in with the previous post.  During the weeks before the 98 Draft, he was working out for teams and Becky and I were in the Detroit airport flying back to New York. At the last minute, they announced a flight cancellation and a gate change for us and we knew that it was a blood-in-the-water first come, first serve situation. So I took off running through the old Detroit airport. I turned the corner into the  right corridor at full sprint, Becky was trailing me, because jacob was a baby and she was pushing a stroller. I was flying, with  bags flapping behind me, when I almost ran smack into Tractor. He had lost a ton of weight but was still massive, like a brick wall. I stopped, said hi, reintroduced myself, shook hands and said, "I gotta go."

He laughed.  As I ran away, I looked over my shoulder and said, "Tractor, you look great! Keep working hard."

And he smiled this huge smile and said, "Thanks, man, I will."

Soon after, I was at Toys R Us on a very early visit and saw a Tractor bobblehead, which I bought and placed on jacob's dresser, next to Josh Gibson. Both are still there 13 years later.

RIP Tractor. Gone far too soon.


The sad demise of nicknames

There's a good, though overly academic, piece in the NYTimes today about the sad demise of sports nicknames. It's a topic we've ranted about in Slam and over at SlamOnline for years. Slam has made efforts to create nicknames for players and have them stick. To the best of my knowledge, there has not been a true success there yet, though I welcome being told I am wrong by someone.

You don't have to be a genius or one of the academics that the NYT spoke to grasp the slide from Magic, Pearl, Black Jesus, Slick, the Microwave, even Air Jordan to D-Wade and Melo. Stat is kind of worthy and Big Baby, as noted in the article, rules the current roost.

But I think it goes deeper than the sports world. I grew up with Icky, Muzzy, Ice, Itzy, Skirbs, Ripper and McGoo. My kids have Jackson, Luke, Gabe and Maddie.  I thought this was mostly a Pittsburgh thing. I mean, where else would a beloved stadium vendor get a nice, long obit in the local paper, like this.  And it was well earned; RIP "Coke heeeere" man.

But maybe it wasn't just a Pittsburgh thing. Did everyone my age and older know a host of people with nicknames?

PS: Best nickname in the old hood may have been "Big Marv the Jew" - especially since he was called that by everyone at the JCC.

PPS: In response to several queries, I have had lots of nicknames, but no one that stuck like those mentioned above. I am Bub, Fat Al, Pipeline, Fu Man Jew, Robo...

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Thank you to everyone popping in after hearing me on the radio

Please browse around, make yourself at home, and drop me a line if you have any questions.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Big in China Excerpt: Into the Great Wide Open. Guizhou, China with Kids

—This post is adapted from Chapter 8 of Big In China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising A Family, Playing The Blues and Becoming A Star in China (Harper). Click here to buy. Copyright 2011 by Alan Paul.
 
There are countless motivations for traveling, but most people abandon "throwing yourself into the deep end to see if you can swim" after they have kids. It just feels too risky to set off on aimless wanderings into parts unknown with children in tow.

Yet kids too can tap into something deep within themselves when forced to stretch beyond their comfort zones, which we began realizing as soon as we took our first trip into China's vast, beautiful and underdeveloped interior. These journeys were far more adventurous than anything we would have attempted at home.

China has three week-long holidays when virtually the entire country shuts down. These breaks are prime times to go exploring, but because 1.3 billion other people have the same idea, many expats prefer to stay put or leave the country, lighting out for Thailand, Malaysia, or other Asian ports of call. We generally ignored this line of thinking.

When the May holiday rolled around, we wanted a China adventure, one far enough off the beaten path to avoid huge crowds. On a WSJ colleague's recommendation, we chose the south­central province of Guizhou, a remote, river­filled place dotted with ethnic minority villages set on high mountains
.
A Miao farmer in hills outside Kaili, Guizhou.
The BBq restaurant was just around the bend.
Just another swaying wooden bridge over a raging Guizhou river.
It was not an obvious destination. As China's poorest province, with a per capita income of $614, Guizhou lacked amenities a vacationing family might seek. The expat­-oriented travel agent first tried to correct me, then laughed out loud when I insisted on buying air tickets to the capital of Guiyang.

We spent one night there, having our first taste of local food, which was different from any other Chinese cuisine I had tasted, its extreme spiciness balanced by sour, pickled vegetables, cilantro, and other fresh herbs. We became regulars at several Beijing Guizhou restaurants for the rest of our stay in China.

"We say, if it doesn't have chilies, it's not food," said our guide Huang Duan ("Call me Howard"). As a lifelong hot food devotee, I felt like I had found my tribe, but in most respects, it felt as if we were at the end of the world.

A growing pack of curious onlookers followed us from our hotel to the restaurant in Guiyang, and the entire waitstaff crowded around two­-and­-a-­half-­year-­old Anna, wanting to hold her, kiss her, and pose for pictures with her. This ritual would be repeated over and over during our visit; Gandalf the White wizard could not have received more amazed stares had he appeared on the streets of Guizhou.

"Many of these people have never seen anyone who looks like Anna, except in pictures," Huang Duan explained. "They think she looks like an angel."
Ann in Guiyang restaurant.
The next day we drove three hours to the mountain outpost of Kaili, a much smaller, poorer, and dirtier city, which is the capital of the "Miao and Dong (minority groups) Autonomous Prefecture."
We bumped over rutted roads in this rough coal-­mining region, taking in scenes of slag and ash heaps and bustling mines. I wondered what we had gotten ourselves into, but then we drove through deep green mountains, with even the steep­est slopes covered in terraced rice paddies. Men plowed the muddy fields behind water buffalo. Women chopped tall grass with hand-held scythes, loading it into large wire baskets bal­anced on either end of a long wooden pole carried across their shoulders.

Miao woman
In a village.
It was fascinating and beautiful, but as the day wore on, the kids wilted in the rising heat as we bounced from one village to another. By the time we climbed into the van for the bumpy, sweaty ride back from a ramshackle village where we bought batik purses and jackets, we were worn out, the kids were rest­less, and I wondered if we could keep up this pace for three more days. Chinese tour guides seemed to think that they were not doing their job if they did not rush you to as many places as possible each day. We were passing through remarkable countryside, but not really stopping to explore it, sticking instead to a steady litany of villages, which were fascinating but beginning to run together, especially for the kids.

Our anxiety deepened during dinner at a stuffy, un­air-conditioned restaurant. Huang Duan ordered our food, then ran out to get us cold beer and soda when the waitress said they did not have any. As Becky and I pulled delicious, slow-­cooked ribs out of a bamboo steamer filled with moist, flavorful rice, eight-year-old Jacob let out a yelp. "I hate this food!" he screamed.

Eli, 5, flopped onto the old linoleum floor, where Anna joined him, much to the horror of the young waitress hovering by the door to our private room holding a pot of tea. Our children were falling apart, and it was clear that we couldn't maintain this pace for three more days.

The next morning, the kids ate the Trix cereal we traveled with while Rebecca and I conferred with Huang Duan over a breakfast of dumplings and spicy noodles. We told him to slash a third of each day's activities and allow time for the kids to ramble through some of the beautiful fields we were zipping by. We were forcing flexibility on our children, but had to be a bit realistic.

We visited a large Miao village, where we joined Chinese tourists watching a traditional flute and dance show, the women clad in colorful hand-­embroidered dresses. As usual, Anna's appearance drew as much attention as the little girls clad in traditional silver hats and necklaces. We bought the kids wooden swords that would get a workout over the next few days. Later we drove farther into the boonies and were the lone visitors in a remote Miao outpost.

Packs of beautiful, dirty­-faced kids followed us everywhere so I started filling my pockets with lollipops and gum at tiny village shops. Jacob and Eli loved handing out the sweets. One five­-year-­old boy appeared with a four-­inch bug on a string leash. Our kids thought that this mantis-­like creature was the coolest pet they had ever seen.
That's the boy and his bug pet.
The next day we told our guide to drop us off so we could hike across rice paddies and through two villages, which were off the tourist path. I stopped at a counter to buy water and cookies for the kids. A group of village women, clad in tra­ditional blue smocks and white head coverings, were eating lunch in a back room. One called out, "Chi fan!" "Chi fan!" (Eat, eat!), and waved me in. When I entered, she handed me a bowl of congee (rice porridge) and gently pushed me onto a small wooden stool. The congee tasted like glue. Looking at a sea of smiling, expectant faces, I smiled and said, "Hao chi!" (Tastes good!).
They pulled up another chair and handed Rebecca a bowl. Soon bowls of cooked food came our way, including some spicy mystery meat, which lent the congee a strong, vibrant taste. The kids watched the whole scene with amused smiles, while eating their "Ocop" -- faux Oreos. We now considered packaged cookies, reliably available anywhere, another essential food group.

We lunched at a local barbecue joint hard by the banks of the churning Bala River underneath cloud-­shrouded, deep green peaks. Our guide did not want to take us there and remained uneasy when we insisted. Becky and I laughed about how uptight he was, but the source of his discomfort soon became clear: even by rural China standards, the sanitary conditions were spotty.

As we tentatively walked around the outdoor dining area waiting for our food, our kids started playing with a gaggle of children. Their playmates were fellow diners as well as Miaos from a neighboring village, including one boy zipping around on a homemade scooter - two planks of wood with rickety wheels attached. He gave each of our kids a turn. Throughout this trip Jacob and Eli made friends with these fun-loving Chinese boys, getting into hardcore games of tag, karate and Gameboy-playing. There are an awful lot of wild boys in the world, and it became obvious that they can spot one another and connect without saying a word.

Anna picked up a small fish a villager had caught and swung it around by its tail, much to the delight of the other guests eating nearby, all of them tourists from eight hours away. They handed us little cups of beer and insisted we sample their fresh­ grilled meat and fish.

Jacob, a veritable vegetarian, was so hungry and having so much fun with his new friends that he tried marinated, grilled beef. He tentatively stuck a corner in his mouth and nibbled, as Becky and I watched intently while pretending to have no interest.

"Mmmm. This is great."

He gobbled down the piece and asked for another. He ate a whole order and has been a steak-­loving carnivore ever since.

We all grilled and ate together, then the men sat in the gazebo drinking beer while the women walked down to the riverbank and oversaw the children. Becky would normally have given me a hard time about this unfair division of labor, but we were both too enchanted to want to change a thing. The kids scampered around, catching crabs, throwing rocks into the raging brown river, and playing tag.

Huang Duan, finally realizing we were happy and that he wasn't doing a bad job, joined us, eating, drinking, and serving as our translator. We lingered for hours, as I downed one tiny plastic cup of lukewarm beer after another after endless toasts of "gan-bei" (bottoms up).

As we started to say our goodbyes, four of the older village girls, all about 12 years old, swept in to take our bottles. They carefully poured the remnants of each into a two-liter soda bottle, no doubt for their parents' enjoyment, and gathered up the empties, which each had a deposit worth about a dime.

We finally began slowly walking through the light mud back to our van. "Thank you, Dad," Jacob said, giving me a big hug. "This was the best lunch ever."
—This story is adapted from Big In China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising A Family, Playing The Blues and Becoming A Star in China (Harper Collins). Available in all formats at all retailers. Copyright 2011 by Alan Paul.

I wish I had taken some better video... these were all done with my little pocket Canon Powershot and I didn't really know how to edit or clean up video at that point, either.

In case anyone doubts the level of interest in Anna. This is from the restaurant, as described in this excerpt:




Next two are Miao folk dancers from one of the villages we visited:


Warren Haynes on NPR

Here's a well-deserved, lengthy and insightful, interview with Warren on NPR's Weekend Edition.

Man in Motion is a very strong album and I'm looking forward to seeing the new band at the Beacon this week.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Torture did not lead us to OSL

No doubt, Andrew Sullivan of The Daily Dish can be a bit of a blowhard and I sometimes vehemently disagree with him. But I also think he's a great writer filled with passion, and who expresses himself clearly and eloquently. so when I agree with him, I love to read his posts, because they express my thoughts so nicely. And he does so here, explaining why torture is simply wrong and really did not lead to OSL's demise.

He also points out here that John McCain agrees.

The New Yorker's Jane Mayer, who has written extensively and throughly on the issue, weighs in here.

Pete Hamill on OSL, 9/11, the WSJ and more...

There's a really interesting interview with journalist and author Pete Hamill on the Atlantic.com, which I highly recommend.

Among other things, he talks at length about 9/11 and his reporting of it, why the death of Osama Bin Laden can't bring "closure" - a term I have always hated, and his views on newspapers , the differences between a tabloid and broadsheet and even his romances with Jackie Kennedy and Shirley MacLaine. Insightful and fun read, which is always a good combination.

One question and answer that also caught my eye, for obvious reasons was about the WSJ in the Murdoch/News Corp era.

What do you make of what Rupert Murdoch has done with the Wall Street Journal since he purchased it in 2007?

It's a better paper. Jesse Abramson, a great sportswriter at the old Herald-Tribune, gave me some good advice when I was a young reporter: "Write for the guy who reads page one." By which he means the interested guy who bothered to buy the paper. The man didn't buy the paper to get a passel of jargon thrown at him. Tell a tale clearly using language people understand. Rupert Murdoch and his editors have made the Journal much more readable.

I agree with him and think this has been really overlooked and misunderstood. Given Becky's position and involvememt, I have a lot of skin in the game. He does not.

I also liked this quote a lot and fully agree with the sentiment:

"The whole point of a press card is that you have privileged access. I respect that. It's earned. If you're sitting there with a press card and don't go out of the building and you read the Washington Post and then write a column, you're not taking advantage of the thing that's been given to you. I learned about the world and the lives of others by going on assignments and asking questions and listening. A lot of people don't do that now."

Ah, the good old days - Jet Lag division

And here's one for old time's sake. Since Big In China came out - and really since we moved to China, way back in 2005 - people have asked about the travel with the kids and how we dealt with jet lag. I even have a chapter in the book that at least begins to deal with it... but going back and re-reading my posts from the days right after we returned from visits to the U.S. is pretty eye-opening.

See for yourself:

Jet lag continues - originally posted on January 6, 2006

Day two… Anna woke up at 2:30 this morning, which means we got an extra hour or two of sleep, I guess. She came in bed and we put on Caillou on the portable DVD player. How did people survive without those things? Jacob joined her by 3 and Eli by 3:30. They all watched Dvds for a while. Becky went up and slept in Anna’s bed.

By 4 or 4:30, Eli and Jacob were fighting over the computer. By 5, I was on y third cup of coffee and was back working on the castle. By 5:30 Jacob had completed a giant Darda car track, using the couch as a launching pad, which brought back great memories of me and bro David making elaborate Hot Wheels tracks in the basement of 5450 Guarino Rd, using the piano bench as a starting ramp.

By 6 or 6:30, I had woken Rebecca up and handed over the reigns so I should get back in bed and rest if not sleep for an hour. By 8, Jacob was out the door to school and Eli was flopping all over the floor screaming that he wouldn’t go to school. He eventually said that he was trying to be late because he hated doing workbooks, which is how they start their day. You have to love the lack of guile.

He went totally boneless and refused to go to school, so I carried him over my shoulder and buckled him into the car and drove to school, only the second time I’ve driven. I just didn’t see any way to get him there on a bike. I arrived to find several of his classmates in similar straits. Rough week here, with a schoolful of jet lagged kids. And after three weeks, we have a week off for Chinese New years.

Meanwhile, the sky was eerie this morning as all this went down. It was grey and gloomy, almost purple and perpetual dawn-like. And with the thick haze of coal-fired pollution hanging in the air, the word that came to mind was purple haze. It was really quite eerie. I came home to change and headed back out to the gym to find it snowing. We eventually got maybe an inch of snow and when I picked the kids up, everyone was thrilled.. lots of snowball fights going on, kids sliding everywhere, laughing, crying out.

Both boys went to friends’ houses for playdates, which are perfect for keeping them up a while. Anna, meanwhile, somehow didn’t nap, though she generally does every day. We should have given ding explicit instructions but it didn’t seem necessary. She conked out at 5 pm. We tried to wake her around 6:30 to no avail. It is now 7:48 and I figure I have five hours before she wakes up so I need to head up.

Jacob fell asleep on the coach at about 7 and Eli had a nice dinner with us, ate a ton, talked, laughed, was in great spirits, then fell asleep right in his chair. I carried both of them up to bed.

Meanwhile, Becky is very busy at work and the Dow Jones general counsel arrived here tonight with a Deputy Managing Editor. They are here to do a seminar with the office tomorrow. So we’ll be running them around a bit this weekend. Must sleep, must sleep…

Before I go crash – third straight night in bed before 8:30 – one more funny thing. I am going to see the Backstreet Boys Monday night. We met a woman on the plane over who works for a promoter here. You can really do some great sourcing just on these plane rides, since they are filled with people coming over to do all kinds of business. She also invited us to se the stones in Shanghai in April. I just thought that the Backstreet Boys in Beijing was too good to pass up. May even be a column in there.

Good night.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Making dumplings

Learning to make dumplings with the great Hou Ayi in Beijing. I get hungry and sentimental watching this.

I'm glad that more people are picking up on the passion for food displayed throughout Big in China. It was certainly a big part of my experience in Beijing and looms large in so many of my memories of the place. I am itching to get back - probably next month - and throw down some of this great food, from the street carts to the great duck restaurants.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Warren Haynes on Man in Motion - and Big In China


Warren Haynes has probably been my most frequent writing subject. I have interviewed him more times for Guitar World than I could possibly count. The first time was in 1989 when he was a new member of the Allman Brothers Band. I was hired as the Guitar World Managing Editor in 1991 and Warren moved to NYC not long after. I began hanging out around the band, thanks to my burgeoning friendship with road manager Kirk West, and found in Warren a kindred spirit in many ways. He is about six years older than me, so we are peers and we quickly realized that we shared outsized passions for the same broad range of music - blues, jazz, jam, African, and, of course, the Allman Brothers Band.

I have interviewed Warren about his work with the Allmans, his power trio Gov't Mule, Phil and Friends, the Dead. We've shared meals and songs. I've been to his house, and on his bus and backstage. I was invited to his wedding but was sadly out of the country. All of this is a long windup to say that I took tremendous pleasure in playing his song "Soulshine" in China. It's an anthem here and it was an anthem there, a ballad about good vibes and inner strength that crossed cultures and retained its power. I describe the incredible feeling of playing this song that meant so much to me in one of my favorite scenes in Big in China, when we played it in Changsha, Hunan at the Coco Club's "private club for successful people."

Now Warren has a new solo album about to be released. It's called Man in Motion and it is a soul-infused recording released on the reborn Stax label - the kind of cool touch that I have alway admired about him. It's being called a big departure, but I think that anyone who loves Warren's music will love this and not be put off at all. It's music filled with great grooves, passionate singing and stinging guitar work; it sounds like Warren, just in a slightly different context and with a limber, New Orleans-based band, including the mighty bassist George Porter Jr. and keyboardist/singer Ivan Neville. Singer Ruthie Foster also comes in to throw some sparks off of Warren.

I interviewed Warren last month at the Guitar World offices - and it was a relief and pleasure after a month spent so wrapped up in my own world, promoting my book, to get back to telling someone else's story. The feature, including an extensive sidebar about his guitars, will be out in a few weeks in the July GW. I'm proud of the piece, and very, very proud of what Warren said after reading Big in China:

“It’s hard to imagine a better American musical ambassador than Alan Paul.After a career spent crafting words, he found himself in a situation where words didn’t work anymore and was able to transcend them and make a deeper emotional connection with music. With the help of great local musicians, he bridged cultures with notes. It's an amazing story.”

-Warren Haynes, the Allman Brothers Band, Gov't Mule

Monday, May 02, 2011

Big In China about the Book Video

It just seemed like time to repost this video.I need another push here. If you have not purchased or checked out Big in China on Amazon yet, please click on over. Thanks.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Game of Thrones and the real Royal Family

I've been enjoying HBO's Game of Thrones quite a bit.Rob sheffield at Rolling Stone explains it pretty simply here: Beheadings and breasts are a tough combination to beat.

IN the wake of the Royal Wedding, Dr. Science has a great post comparing the real royal family to the Game of Thrones bunch. This is pretty priceless and certainly true: When only a few people are clean and wear nice clothes, always get enough to eat and never have to go without sleep or warmth, they *will* look comparatively gorgeous, and they are likely to be -- or seem to be -- stronger, smarter, and taller than the ordinary run of folk. But when most people are reasonably well-nourished and -housed, with good medical care and a chance at education, the apparent genetic component of Royal Blood just fades away. In fact, speaking as a geneticist, Prince William is marrying *up* by choosing a good-looking, healthy young woman with a reasonable brain in her head.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

The China Daily is bullish on Big In China

"Big in China vividly conveys the open-ended, chaotic, wonder and possibility of being a foreigner in today's China. Alan Paul's evolution from expat-village 'trailing spouse' to star of the Chinese music scene stands for countless similar developments underway in China now. I hope many people read this book -- and at least consider a similar adventure themselves."
—James Fallows, author,Postcards from Tomorrow Square

Anyone who has lived in China will know why I am so tickled about this nice article in China Daily. James Fallows often calls it his favorite paper, tongue firmly planted in cheek. But if you've read it regularly and/or followed China, you'll understand why he would say this and why I would be happy about this.

Better, yet, they did a nice job with the article and I am honestly quite pleased about it. Spread the word.